The first time I used Zoom, I felt like a hungry person sitting down to a feast. Each time another face popped up on the screen, I felt an extra beat in my heart and a lift in my smile. Oh, the laughter and voices of my classmates! It was the most beautiful song to my ears. I couldn’t get enough.
As classes began the next week, each Zoom call felt like I was back in Tribble. Conversations were strong and vibrant. I was, surprisingly, satiated.
But, slowly, Zoom became insufficient.
In one of my favorite English classes during spring semester, my professor often played music as we walked into class. Our “hellos” and “how are yous” were set to the soundtrack of a lively Irish jig or a gloomy folk ballad.
The first time we met online, my professor recreated the experience, playing music over his speaker as we gathered. I grinned, pleased by his thoughtfulness to continue this tradition.
But, truthfully, it just didn’t work. The guitar turned brassy as it traveled through multiple speakers, and our voices were muffled.
A few days later, I gathered on Zoom with a group of peers I meet with weekly. One of my dear friends, when sharing her thoughts, cried. I could see the shimmer of her tears. I could hear her broken sniffle. And there was nothing I could do.
As she cried, I envisioned what this would have been like a few weeks earlier: There we were, in the room where we met every week, gathered around her. When she began to cry, a friend rested a hand on her knee. I wiped her tears with my thumbs. Hugged her. Told her I loved her.
But there I was — utterly helpless — idly watching a 2-by-1-inch video of her crying. And there she was, feeling utterly alone. As I watched her head fall and her knees tuck into her chest, it was remarkably obvious that we humans weren’t made to ache alone.
I am one of the many college students whose semester was cut short because of the tragedy our world faced this year. My classmates have experienced hardship because of the coronavirus — turmoil in finances, families, health. We worry about each other. We worry about the men and women who, every day, served us warm meals, planted flowers outside our bedroom windows and washed our bathrooms, and we miss them.
I’ve had long conversations with my friends about all the things that make us sad, and even angry, about missing during our last semester. Senior Sendoff. Shag on the Mag. Our professors. Final concerts, recitals, plays. The Quad on the first spring day. Watching the first magnolia bloom. Commencement.
Out of all these losses, one unites them all: we are without the privilege of suffering together, in the richness and fullness of our community.
In many bright, endearing and original ways, Wake Foresters have tried to make it feel like we are together. One student hosts virtual yoga class to facilitate community around exercise. My over-planned generation is learning the art of the spontaneous phone call. Students are enjoying sharing songs, art, poetry, photographs, recipes, which, as they are heard and viewed and tasted and smelled, feel more human.
Joy and beauty fill these moments. How thankful we are that we have technology at our fingertips! But each glitch and lag and difference of time zone reminds us that, still, things are not as they should be.
If I’ve learned anything about my classmates during times of grief, it’s that we are meaning-makers.
Even now, we share meaning with one another. We’ve learned a valuable lesson about the lesser-known translation of our University’s motto: for humanness. Embodied and finite, it’s our humanness, and our craving for human connection, that makes us one.
I long for the day the sun rises on a crowded campus. We’ll lie arm to arm on the grassy Quad. We’ll meet in the Pit and greet the staff. We’ll gather for drinks at Zick’s and for dinner in our professors’ homes. We’ll lean in when we are having a conversation, make eye contact, shake hands, hug. The chapel bells will ring, and we’ll remember all we missed when we were apart. And we’ll remember our humanness. For then, together, we will be able to best serve our humanity.
Katherine Laws (’20) of Concord, North Carolina, co-chaired Traditions Council and served as a President’s Aide and a tour guide before graduating in May. She will be a Wake Forest Fellow in the Office of Personal and Career Development next academic year.